Exploring Handshakes

Topics: Big Five personality traits, Nonverbal communication, Handshake Pages: 22 (6450 words) Published: September 20, 2010
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Greg L. Stewart, Department of Management and Organizations, Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242 Electronic Mail may be sent to: greg-stewart@uiowa.edu.

A firm handshake is often identified as an aspect of nonverbal communication that has a critical influence on impressions formed during employment interviews. Indeed, a recent search of the Internet revealed nearly a million listings that detailed the importance of the handshake and gave advice about the proper way to shake hands during an interview. In spite of seemingly widespread acceptance of the important role the handshake plays in interview success, empirical research examining the handshake in employment interviews is lacking.

Nonverbal cues other than the handshake, such as eye contact during discussions and smiling, have been shown to have a critical influence on interview assessments (DeGroot & Motowidlo, 1999). Although not studied in the interview context, the ubiquitous prevalence of the handshake at both the beginning and the end of interviews suggests that nonverbal cues communicated through the shaking of hands may convey important information about job applicants. The handshake may specifically convey information about an individual's personality, as early research suggested a traitlike relationship between the handshake and personality (Chaplin, Phillips, Brown, Clanton, & Stein, 2000; Vanderbilt, 1957). In short, good handshakes are believed to communicate sociability, friendliness, and dominance, whereas poor handshakes may communicate introversion, shyness, and neuroticism (Chaplin et al., 2000). Yet, research has not explored relationships between the nonverbal act of shaking hands and employment interview evaluations.

In this article, we empirically examine the role of the handshake in employment interviews. We first seek to determine whether quality of the handshake does indeed correspond with interviewer assessments. We then explore the nature of what is being conveyed through the handshake by examining relationships between the handshake and personality. We also assess the effect of potential gender differences in handshaking. Is Handshake Quality Related to Ratings in Employment Interviews?

In the interview context, nonverbal behaviors are assumed to convey useful information (Gifford, Ng, & Wilkinson, 1985; Schlenker, 1980). The category of nonverbal cues can be broadly defined as cues, other than the content of responses, or demographic differences like sex and race (Parsons & Liden, 1984). Nonverbal behaviors commonly thought to be important during an interview include eye contact, smiling, posture, interpersonal distance, and body orientation (Forbes & Jackson, 1980; Imada & Hakel, 1977; Motowidlo & Burnett, 1995; Young & Beier, 1977). These behaviors are assumed to influence interviewer reactions, which in turn result in attributions of applicant characteristics such as communication ability, intelligence, and self-confidence (DeGroot & Motowidlo, 1999; McGovern & Tinsley, 1978).

Given that a handshake typically occurs in the interview setting, it is surprising that researchers have not looked at the role this form of tactile nonverbal communication may play in the interview setting. The handshake is a nonverbal touch behavior that can convey an "immediacy" dimension in interviews (Imada & Hakel, 1977). Immediacy is an interaction between two individuals that involves close physical proximity and/or perceptual availability (Mehrabian, 1972). It has been theorized that greater immediacy leads to attributions of greater liking (Imada & Hakel, 1977; Mehrabian, 1967). Because the act of shaking hands requires physical contact, the handshake should influence immediacy evaluations. Physical touch is generally associated with warmth, closeness, caring, and intimacy (Edinger & Patterson, 1983). Of course, awkward handshakes can also...

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